As the closing moments of Grant Saunders’ documentary Teach a Man to Fish played on the big screen at the Manning Entertainment Centre, the 500-member audience rose to its feet in congratulations.
It was a surreal moment for the filmmaker, who has invested time in the project as far back as 2002.
It documents him coming back home after being away for over half his life and using fishing as a way to reconnect with his father Ray (a professional fisherman), his family, his country and his town.
“It’s art imitating life. It was about reconnecting and through the film I was able to do that,” said Grant.
“Just about everyone in the audience was standing up. It was surreal, then all the conversations afterwards. I think all the fishos were really proud to be represented and other people got different things from it too.”
The film had previously screened for an audience of 300 at the Sydney Film Festival, but sitting and watching it with an audience of 500 that included many family members and friends was something special.
“It was exciting and nerve-wracking, but I felt safe and I’ve been talking about those issues for a while now so the whole process was cathartic and therapeutic.”
Those issues included stories of bullying, racism, of being from a mixed race family and themes around reconciliation and much more. “The film raises more questions than answers and it starts a number of different conversations.”
He said the response has been overwhelming. “Everyone who has seen it is just loving it, it just really touched them I think in the right way. A lot of people have gone through similar stuff to me and it really resonated. There was also being part of a small Aboriginal fishing family.”
He said it has really turned into the family’s film and that it has brought him and his father Ray closer, “big time”.
“Being stuck in that boat and working together on a daily basis and having coffee breaks on the riverbank. We are now sharing the film with each other and he is claiming it as his own.”
He said his parents are still riding the high of the film, as is he (“We’re floating”), and Ray is now getting phone calls from other fishermen.
Grant thanks all the sponsors for helping make the night special, which included a red carpet, photos and plenty of beautiful local food and seafood.
Elaine Crombie from Grace Beside Me, Redfern Now and Black Comedy hosted the event, which also included a screening of the music clip Deadly, featuring Andrew and Luca Saunders, Welcome to Country from Uncle Russell Saunders, who also played the didgeridoo, a musical performance by Uncle Mick Saunders, plus Q and A session.
More screenings of the documentary Teach a Man to Fish are on the way.
Two school sessions will be held at the Manning Entertainment Centre in September.
Grant’s former school Chatham High has booked out the theatre for one session so all its students can attend, while the second showing so far has students from Taree High, Wingham High and Old Bar Public School attending.
There is also plans for an open-air screening locally at the end of September.
Grant and his team behind the film have also been notified it has been accepted into the Byron Bay Film Festival in October.
It has been entered into a number of international film festivals.
Teach a Man to Fish will also air on NITV on October 28.
“I didn’t think it would blow up as big as it has. I knew it would have some impact but not to this degree,” said filmmaker Grant Saunders.
“I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”
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